GLENGARRY – The Big Bishop probably has a big smile on his face in heaven.

The former home of the first Ontario diocese bishop has entered a new chapter in its long history.

Until just weeks ago, Alexander Macdonell’s residence in St. Raphael’s was on the verge of being demolished by its property owner, the Alexandria-Cornwall Diocese.

But the diocese has reached an agreement to turn over the Bishop’s House to the Glengarry Fencibles Trust – a group of residents trying to find ways of preserving the 1808 structure.

“Great news for the Bishop’s House !” exclaimed a statement in the Fencibles Facebook page.

“Great news for St. Raphael’s, for Glengarry County, and for the cause of historic preservation everywhere!”

Fencibles treasurer Dane Lanken hopes the community can rally behind the revitalization efforts, noting how the Ruins of St. Raphael’s Church was preserved.

The church was remarkable, but so is the house – that’s where the bishop planned (the building of that church from (his) house, which is even older, and not a ruin.”

After being unoccupied for several years, Lanken said it’s unclear what measures need to be taken for it to re-serve the community.

The diocese did not have the financial resources to make it serviceable. And despite negotiating efforts with the Fencibles, it wanted to dispose of it to eliminate heating and insurance costs.

Last spring, the diocese asked South Glengarry council to remove its heritage designation, but this mandatory step before demolition was rejected by council.

The Fencibles paid a nominal $2 to acquire the building and a strip of land that adjoins it to the King’s Highway (County Road 18).

The house has its original 1808 structure, plus two larger additions built in 1924.

Besides the bishop’s home, it was also the first seminary of education in pre-Confederation Canada.

It, later for many decades, served as a school for girls run by the Holy Cross sisters.

Now the Fencibles would be looking to get public input on its overall future as a non-profit community building.

Lanken said fundraising will be a high priority if meaningful use of the building is to take place.

© Cornwall Standard Freeholder, August 19, 2015

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